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Thanks for all your comments, and thanks, Kattie, for some up-to-date information about the UK. I know that everything is very different from the way it was when I was in school.

The general opinion in the UK seems to be that standards have fallen in education over the last few decades, and that young people today are not as well educated as their parents were.

Having said that, I have a friend who is the principal of a high school academy in Nottingham, and he assures me that today’s students are getting a much better education than we had. The problem with education is that every debate about it is highly politicised, so it’s difficult to know what is really going on.

I am encouraged to know that MEXT is thinking of getting rid of the Center Test, though. To start with, I don’t think multiple-choice tests are a good measure of people’s ability, and the Center is not even a well designed one. The sooner they get rid of it, the better.

As some of you mentioned, however, the main purpose of university entrance exams for private universities in Japan is to make money, so I don’t think we will be seeing those disappearing anytime soon. I think the situation could be made a lot better if Japanese companies were not so obsessed with what university a person graduated from. I always tell my students that what matters is not which university you go to, but what you do while you are there.

I know that some companies now are starting to leave the question about which university you go to off their application forms, so maybe things will change in the future. Whichever way you look at it, though, education and the testing of young people are difficult problems for which there is no easy answer.

Here is some feedback on your comments.

the college gave her a multiple choice to assess her Spanish.
I remember that when I was in school, if a teacher told us that we were going to have a multiple-choice test, everyone just laughed, and no one would even bother studying for it.

As for the English exam, I also went through it in newspaper today.
Hi Tsuneko, nice to hear from you again.

I tried to go through the whole questions too, but I failed it. I stopped with question 46 because I was very exhausted.
I tried to go through the whole paper too, but I couldn’t do it. I stopped at question 46 because I was exhausted.

Oh no! I sometimes leave a double space after full stops – these old habits can be hard to shake off!
Everyone who does this, please stop it immediately! It looks dreadful. (And gives away your age!)

the one about American migration because the content was new to me(and for most examinees, I think), and thus I had to read through the whole text to answer the questions.
I quite liked that one too, but there was another really stupid question in it apart from the one I mentioned before.

The main purpose of this passage is to… (a) describe various patterns in American migration (b) explain why some states are less popular than others, (c) list states with a high ratio of adults who were born there, (d) report how the Pew Research Center collected data. The title of the passage is “A study on state-to-state migration in the US.” You don’t need to read the passage at all. Actually, you don’t even need to understand any English. If you can recognise the word “migration” in the title and then spot it again in answer (a), you would get full marks. This should not be possible in a good test.

students seem to get better and better at passing the tests but I think most employers will agree that students are not better educated these days.
Something that puzzles me is that Japanese children always come near the top of league tables when they are compared with other countries, but I have never felt that Japanese adults are better educated than those in other countries. I really do not understand this.

Fortunately, I could pass my first choice university.
Fortunately, I got into my first choice university.

Actually, that is perfectly the reason why I said…
Actually, that is precisely the reason why I said…

If this reform was done, the differnces in academic ability among public schools might disappear or at least decrease
The problem with that idea is that you naturally get better schools in more wealthy areas and worse ones in more deprived areas.

For example, I wonder what kind of question or task or interview would be the best to find out students suitable to the medical profession.
A range of things, probably.

I can’t really remember why it has started in the first place….
I can’t really remember why it was introduced in the first place.

some students have to take test although they are not fine.
… even though they are not well. (A-Z: fine)

I don’t do the test yet
I haven’t done the test yet

I’m not opposing to the German system
I’m not opposed to the German system

However, I’ve been always thinking that…
However, I’ve always thought that…

They chose me in the different way from they do it for German students.
They chose me in a different way from the way they choose German students.

I agree with you, but then how the new system should be chnanged? Do you think the new system that the government have in mind at the moment would work well?
I’m afraid that new ideas never work in Japan because they go through so many committees, they end up getting watered down until they become totally ineffective.

Does “bar” mean law school?
I think “bar” meant “except” in Kattie’s comment.

First, they charge about 35,000 yen/per school(including national universities) just to take the test.
So Meiji is making 35,000 yen multiplied by 100,000 candidates. No wonder the salary is so good there!

That’s it for today. Have a nice weekend.

22 Comments

  1. Biwa on Friday January 24th, 2014 at 01:44 PM

    Hi David,

    Thank you for the feedback. 🙂

    >Something that puzzles me is that Japanese children always come near the top of league tables when they are compared with other countries, but I have never felt that Japanese adults are better educated than those in other countries. I really do not understand this.

    I guess it’s because adults don’t really talk(=think) about things. I was trying to tell my friends how weird the Center Examination was a couple of days ago, but no one really seemed to be interested. Even candidate’s mothers! They all said 「だって、そういうものなんだから仕方ないんじゃない?」

    >So Meiji is making 35,000 yen multiplied by 100,000 candidates. No wonder the salary is so good there!

    That’s interesting! However, Meiji is the only universsity that doesn’t have an early entrance-fee pay limit. There were 560,000 students at the Center Exam, so that means one out of five or six candidates are applying to Meiji. It’s a very wallet-friendly university.



  2. Biwa on Friday January 24th, 2014 at 01:45 PM

    Hi YU,

    >teachers see only your exam scores when they give a grade. Have you?

    No, that’s why I said “even if my ‘work’ was worth it.”

    >Why? I don’t really think so because in fact it used to be so in Japanese schools just until recently.

    Actually, they started “absolute evaluation” in 1980 because “relative evaluation” had been causing a big debate for a long period of time.

    Personally, I think it was a good change because, for example, if your grade was B and tried really hard and reached an A level, I would like my teacher to give me an A no matter how many other students get As. If it was a “relative evaluation,” you would never be able to get an A if there were already enough(the fixed number) A students. It would demotivate me very much.

    To give another example, in reality, the number of good students in each school is different, and it also differs from year to year. If you were going to a school with many good students and your work was as good as another student’s work in another school which didn’t have so many good students, you might get a B, and the other student might get an A. I think that would be very unfair.

    Anyway, what I tried to say was that if universities abolished the Center Examination, they need to think of a good way to assess candidates fairly. If they put too much weight on high school scores, it would be very difficult because each high school has different conditions, an A at X high school and Y high school might be quite different. Under the current system(relative evaluation), high schools can give as many As as they want, so I just thought it might end up in an “A inflation.”(Aの安売り) High school teachers would wish their students to enter good universities, right?

    By the way, Kattie also pointed out the lack of consistency between high schools. As she said, if they can sort out these kind of problems, I think continuous assessment is worth trying in Japan, too.



  3. Tsuneko on Friday January 24th, 2014 at 02:01 PM

    Hi David, Anne, amo and everyone,

    Thank you for your comments. Reading all of your comments on the exams both in the U.K., Germany and in Japan was a lot of fun to me after a long interval although I couldn’t write my opinions. I hope I will be here to join your discussions some time.



  4. Biwa on Friday January 24th, 2014 at 02:05 PM

    Hi YU,

    >Under the current system(relative evaluation),

    Sorry, I made a mistake. The current system is “absolute evaluation.”



  5. Anne on Friday January 24th, 2014 at 03:56 PM

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your feedback as always.

    YU, Biwa and Kattie, I enjoyed reading your discussion, and also I was able to know up-to-date information. Thank you!
    Anyway, students (young people) need to get through pressure even though whatever the system is like.

    By the way, I remember a movie called “The History Boys” when I was reading members comments. This movie is how students used to apply to Oxford and Cambridge, and it was great!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45OsKkHhv90

    Have a lovely weekend, everyone!



  6. YU on Friday January 24th, 2014 at 04:17 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    > Actually, they started “absolute evaluation” in 1980 because “relative evaluation” had been causing a big debate for a long period of time.

    Really?
    Wiki says it started when ゆとり教育 was adopted around 2002.

    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%9B%B8%E5%AF%BE%E8%A9%95%E4%BE%A1

    Anyway, at least at my junior high and high school(I was there from 1983-1989) we were still given our grades by the relative evaluation. I remember this clearly because my junior high school teacher told us that only top 5% students in the school year got grade 10(in my junior high, 10 was the best grade, and 1 was the worst). My school had about 400 students in each grade, that means only 20 students in each grade got level 10.

    > If they put too much weight on high school scores, it would be very difficult because each high school has different conditions, an A at X high school and Y high school might be quite different.

    何回も言いますが、I know it very well(!), as I said to Tamami, I used to be a public high school student too! Actually, I went to a very good high school in my prefecture myself, so it was very hard for me to get A there, but if I had gone to another average high school, it would have been much easier to get it. So, as you say, it would have been disadvantageous for most of my classmates and I if universities in those days had put too much weight on high school scores when they assessed applicants’ abilities.

    Anyway, back to the main point, that’s precisely why I proposed abolishing the entrance exams for public high schools because as I mentioned, I believe that the difference among public high schools originally appeared mainly because of the entrance exams. To begin with, why on earth is it necessary?

    > Under the current system(absolute evaluation), high schools can give as many As as they want, so I just thought it might end up in an “A inflation.”(Aの安売り) High school teachers would wish their students to enter good universities, right?

    It’s easy. If that was your only problem, I don’t think you can do anything but going back to the relative evaluation, as I mentioned.

    > if your grade was B and tried really hard and reached an A level, I would like my teacher to give me an A no matter how many other students get As. If it was a “relative evaluation,” you would never be able to get an A if there were already enough(the fixed number) A students. It would demotivate me very much.

    I kind of understand you, but the world is not that easy in reality, I think. We live in the competitive society. I wonder if those who got used to “the absolute evaluation” too much in school would be able to deal with the actual situation in the real society later…



  7. YU on Friday January 24th, 2014 at 09:01 PM

    Hi David,

    Thank you always for your feedback.

    > Whichever way you look at it, though, education and the testing of young people are difficult problems for which there is no easy answer.

    I totally agree with you.
    That’s why the govenment has been trying this way and that for ages!

    > but I have never felt that Japanese adults are better educated than those in other countries. I really do not understand this.

    I’ve just learned a couple of weeks ago on TV that a test like PISA study for adults was conducted last year and Japanese adults got the first place in two out of the three subjects(読解力、数的思考力) among 24 OECD countries.
    However, I guess it’s all just because we’re so used to write paper tests since our childhood, but actually we’re not better educated at all.

    http://www.sankeibiz.jp/express/photos/131009/exc1310091059001-p2.htm

    > The problem with that idea is that you naturally get better schools in more wealthy areas and worse ones in more deprived areas.

    At first I thought the same way too, and I think you’re right, but then why the same idea(school district system) is admitted in public elementary schools and public junior high schools in this country?
    It’s strange that you ignore the difference in academic ability among students only when they are under 15(before high school) and have everyone go to the same public elementary and junior high school just because they’re neigbors, I think.

    Hi Tsuneko and Anne,

    I’m glad to hear that you liked our dicussion. 🙂
    Anyway, I hope that things around Japanese system for uni entrance will go better within 12 years after today, before my son becomes 18!! Hahaha!
    Am I too selfish??

    Have a great weekend, all!



  8. Kattie on Saturday January 25th, 2014 at 04:01 AM

    Hi Biwa,

    >Does “bar” mean law school?
    I think “bar” meant “except” in Kattie’s comment

    Yes I meant it to mean ‘except’ – normally I would have just said ‘all bar one’ but I added ‘exception’ because I thought it might make it clearer. Bar has several other meanings i.e. a bar in a pub and barristers (who are part of the legal profession) are said to practise at the bar.

    > Regarding the entrance/test fees at Japanese universities.
    I was horrified to hear you have to pay such a high amount just to take an exam or reserve a place, I don’t think they should be able to charge anything other than a basic admin charge. I think every country has a lot of things which remain unchallenged because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’, so it’s really handy to see how things work in other countries. I’m pretty sure we would have demonstrations if fees like this were introduced here – we’re very bolshy about these things!



  9. Biwa on Saturday January 25th, 2014 at 07:58 AM

    Hi Kattie,

    Thanks, I always learn a lot from your comments. “Bar” is an interesting word. Perhaps they used to have bars(hand rails) in a bar(pub). Learning that bar meant “except” this time, I kind of understand, because bars(rails) block someone’s way, or exclude someone, it’s easy to remember.

    I knew you would be surprised to hear the Japanese admission system! I think you didn’t even understand what paying an entrance-fee for insurance meant. I wonder if all this madness happens in other countries where there are more private universities than national ones.

    >I think every country has a lot of things which remain unchallenged because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’, so it’s really handy to see how things work in other countries.

    I totally agree! We must try harder to get more readers to this blog.(lol!)

    Hi YU,

    >I wonder if those who got used to “the absolute evaluation” too much in school would be able to deal with the actual situation in the real society later…

    Ah, I see! We live in a totally different world. I wouldn’t really like to send my children to a school where your efforts are hardly rewarded.

    We are talking on a different assumption, so it’s hard to get a kind of conclusion, isn’t it. You are assuming that entrance exams for high schools are abolished and all grading systems etc are consistent among schools, whereas I’m talking about things based on the current system(=inconsistent standard, absolute evaluation, etc). Anyway, nice talking to you always.

    Hi Anne,

    Sorry, I just thought my mistake might have made you mistake! “出願する、申請する” should be “apply for.” The movie seems interesting. I hope I can find it at Tsutaya!

    Have a nice weekend, everyone! 🙂



  10. YU on Saturday January 25th, 2014 at 09:55 AM

    Hi Biwa,

    > I wouldn’t really like to send my children to a school where your efforts are hardly rewarded.

    Me either, I don’t think the reward for efforts always need to be shown in their school records, though…

    By the way, as you know, it’s also true that competing with others and sometimes drinking a bitter cup(learning that you’re inferior to someone in some point) often motivate you to do anything more. If there was no competition in this society, you would stop developing and the world would stop thriving.

    > Anyway, nice talking to you always.

    Thanks, you too.



  11. Kattie on Saturday January 25th, 2014 at 08:17 PM

    Hi Anne,

    We went to see the History Boys when it was a play. Alan Bennett’s plays and books are always thought provoking… and often humorous too. It’s interesting that you enjoyed the film, his work seems very English to me so I wouldn’t necessarily think it would translate well.

    Hi Biwa and Yu,

    I also enjoyed reading your discussion about the merits/demerits of absolute and relative evaluation. We have discussions about this here too, we use absolute evaluation for GCSEs and A’levels which is often criticised because every year more and more people are getting the top grades and it’s harder for universities and employers to pick the best students. Students are not inherently cleverer than they were 20 years ago but the amount of A grades has gone up dramatically.

    There are lots of views about why this has happened but I think the single main reason for this grade inflation is because A’levels have become increasingly modular so students sit lots of mini exams and can keep re-taking little elements to improve their grades prior to taking their final exam at the end of the 2 years. The final exam cannot be taken without repeating the year but it is only worth a small percentage of the total, so you can get a D grade in this exam but still get an A grade overall! When David and I took A’levels, we studied our chosen subjects for 2 years and then took the exams over a 2 week period at the end of the course. The government is now reverting to the old system and I’m sure this will mean that it will be harder to get the top grades so a curved marking system will probably not be necessary.

    Hi David,

    >It looks dreadful and gives your age away

    I had no idea, a double space after a period could cause so much consternation so I’ll try and stop it – but I’ve no problem with being aged by it! I have a few bug bears too but they’re normally grammar related – for example, I don’t like the way that people say ‘like’ all the time but not in the normal sense of liking i.e. I was like standing here and he was like standing there and…..’ Also when people say ‘I was sat/stood etc’ instead of ‘I was sitting/standing’. I know language evolves all the time and we can’t and shouldn’t preserve it so I should just turn a blind eye/ear!



  12. Kattie on Saturday January 25th, 2014 at 08:20 PM

    Just re-read the last paragraph – I have no idea why I put a comma after the ‘no idea’!!



  13. Fumie on Saturday January 25th, 2014 at 10:32 PM

    Hi David,

    Thank you so much for your feedback!
    To tell you the truth, the topic and the level of members’s discussions were difficult for me and I was always tired after I got home from work, it’s hard to keep up with the discussion. (I ended up dozed off on keyboard while reading comments.)lol!

    >I know that some companies now are starting to leave the question about which university you go to off their application forms, so maybe things will change in the future.
    – leave は出身大学を書かなくていいと言うことですか?
    Oh, that would be a big change!

    >(And gives away your age!)
    – 「年がわかってしまう」って意味ですね。That’s a handy expression for me. I’d like to use it.



  14. YU on Saturday January 25th, 2014 at 10:34 PM

    Hi Kattie,

    > The final exam cannot be taken without repeating the year but it is only worth a small percentage of the total, so you can get a D grade in this exam but still get an A grade overall!

    The problem isn’t the mini tests themselves, but the fact that all the mini tests are included in evaluation for the overall grade and now the final exam is losing its’ meaning.

    I think that the current system has some good points too. Studying always hard and taking a lot of mini tests prior to the final exam itself isn’t a bad thing if they were done just to check your understanding level for yourself. I’m not sure if the mini tests are necessary in the first place, though, “learning something little by little” isn’t a bad idea, it deepens your comprehension.



  15. Kattie on Sunday January 26th, 2014 at 03:26 AM

    Hi Yu,

    >The problem isn’t the mini tests themselves, but the fact that all the mini tests are included in evaluation

    Yes, I agree. I remember we often had tests but they didn’t count towards the final exam grade.

    Hi Fumie,

    I’m really sorry it was so difficult – sometimes I forget because everyone is so good.



  16. Fumie on Sunday January 26th, 2014 at 07:02 AM

    Hi Kattie,

    Please don’t apologize! I’ve never been discouraged or disappointed when I see high level English. Though my English level is not so well but I have an ambition that my English will be excellent someday. So I like the challenge!



  17. Biwa on Sunday January 26th, 2014 at 09:57 AM

    Hi Kattie and everyone,

    >When David and I took A’levels, we studied our chosen subjects for 2 years and then took the exams over a 2 week period at the end of the course.

    From now on, I will never say I have ever studied anything at school in front of you two!

    By the way, I often notice British students having oral examinations in movies. (The online dictionary says you call it a “viva.” Is that so?) Did you used to have those, too? As far as I know, I have never heard of oral exams in Japanese schools. No wonder you are so good at presenting your thoughts logically.

    In elementary school, we sometimes had class meetings where we would discuss and decide what to do with our class-related problems. However, the older children get, the lesser those occasions to actually state your ideas in front of your friends/teachers. Also, classes become more teacher-centered, more like answering your teachers questions, not really presenting your ideas. I wonder why. And I guess this lack of oral-learning is one of the reasons why David hardly ever feels Japanese adults are better educated than those in other countries.

    P.S. “Sit an exam” was another new one. Thanks!



  18. Anne on Sunday January 26th, 2014 at 02:40 PM

    Hi kattie,

    >his work seems very English to me so I wouldn’t necessarily think it would translate well.
    —I think so,too. I’m not sure how each work is translated into Japanese and convey the humor in his work. Actually, I also read one of his novels called “The Uncommon Reader” in English. I really enjoyed reading it and its humor.

    Hi YU,
    >, I hope that things around Japanese system for uni entrance will go better within 12 years after today—No you are not selfish at all. You are not the only person to think that way!



  19. amo on Sunday January 26th, 2014 at 06:28 PM

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your feedback, and thanks to Kattie, I learnt a lot of things from her comments.
    >I think the situation could be made a lot better if Japanese companies were not so obsessed with what university a person graduated from. I always tell my students that what matters is not which university you go to, but what you do while you are there.
    I really think so, too.

    Hi Anne,

    I haven’t watched that movie but when I read Kattie’s comments, somehow that movie came to mind.

    Hi Kattie,

    I always appreciate your comments like others said. We can learn a lot of natural English from your comments.

    amo



  20. Kattie on Sunday January 26th, 2014 at 09:28 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    > I often notice British students having oral examinations in movies. (The online dictionary says you call it a “viva.” Is that so?) Did you used to have those, too.

    vivas are sometimes used by universities especially at the post graduate level. They will ask the student follow up questions about what they have written in their thesis and ask them to justify their viewpoints, I don’t think they are given an individual mark for the viva but they are given a mark for their overall performance. I think the word ‘oral’ is generally used where students are given an individual mark for a verbal test. Orals are most commonly used in foreign language exams. We also use the
    word ‘presentation’ which is where a student will have to present a piece orally.

    At my school, we only had orals in foreign languages, we often had debates and there was a lot of discussion in class but this didn’t count towards our exam grades. These days, students are more likely to do presentations/orals in exams, especially in English and foreign languages and they also sometimes do presentations at under- graduate level. As I said before British classrooms are often very noisy places! Teaching at it’s best should involve a lot of discussion but the problem is that lessons sometimes descend into chaos because either the teacher doesn’t have the authority to control it and/or the kids are too interested in messing around – this is particularly the case where classes are too big and the students are not so strong academically.

    Hi Anne,
    > I’m not sure how each work is translated into Japanese
    Perhaps British and Japanese culture/humour has enough common ground to make it possible and the translators must be very clever too. I think Alan Bennett is brilliant; I particularly liked a series of dramatic monologues called Talking Heads and also a book he wrote called The Lady in the Van – and I liked the Uncommon Reader too!

    Hi Fumie and Amo,

    Thanks for your nice comments – as I keep saying, I’m always amazed by everyone’s English.



  21. Biwa on Monday January 27th, 2014 at 09:46 AM

    Hi Kattie,

    Thank you always for your reply.

    >Orals are most commonly used in foreign language exams.

    I see. I guess it was my biased impression that British students (they’re usually wearing neckties, by the way)sit in front of their teacher and answer a history question or something. Those scenes made me think that I would never be able to go to school in Britain!

    Anyway, it’s very reasonable to have orals in foreign language exams since it’s hard to assess someone’s language abilities by just paper tests, and it’s not very helpful for the students, either. David said that he’s doing orals for his students. I wonder if it has changed students’ attitudes toward studying.

    >Teaching at it’s best should involve a lot of discussion but the problem is that…

    Too big class sizes is another big problem in Japan, too. It’s usually around forty!



  22. YU on Monday January 27th, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Hi Biwa and Kattie,

    > I guess it’s because adults don’t really talk(=think) about things. I was trying to tell my friends how weird the Center Examination was a couple of days ago, but no one really seemed to be interested.

    A friend of mine told me that there were actually some who like to talk about things among mothers around us too, but they were just afraid of being labeled “highbrow intellectual” or “a person who always complains”. She told me that one of her friends started talking about things with her as soon as others(who look not really being interested in things)left them the other day, so I should look for someone like her friend too, but it’s soooooo difficult here, isn’t it? 🙂

    > I’m pretty sure we would have demonstrations if fees like this were introduced here – we’re very bolshy about these things!

    Another weird myth in Japan ;

    “People of great character often complain about things least”

    Of course, I know that this would be laughed down in other countries, but Japanese people prefer going along with the climate to running against it.

    It’s strange, but what others think of a person really matters in Japan!